Sunday, December 30, 2007

Movie Review: National Treasure: Book of Secrets

Can I still have fun if I can't understand it?

National Treasure: Book of Secrets, directed by Jon Turteltaub. Screenplay by Cormac and Mariamme Wibberley. Starring Nicolas Cage, Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger, and Jon Voight. Jerry Bruckheimer Films, 2007. Rated PG. USCCB Rating is AII--Adults and Adolescents.

I have no idea what was going on in this movie, so why am I so entertained?

Famed treasure-hunter (in Hollywood, this, along with "tomb raider," is a synonym for "archaeologist") Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) has just received shocking news: a shady antiquities collector (Ed Harris) has evidence that an ancestor of Gates conspired in the assassination of President Lincoln. Unwilling to see the name of his ancestor sullied, Gates drags his computer-hacking sidekick (Justin Bartha) and estranged ex-girlfriend (Diane Kruger) on an international treasure-hunt, during which he breaks numerous laws and sullies his own good name. A code in John Wilkes Booth's diary leads the ambitious trio on a search for the famed golden city of El Dorado, but to get all the clues, they will have to break and enter at Buckingham Palace, repeat the process at the White House, and kidnap the President (Bruce Greenwood) to get a look in his private book, which contains all of America's dirty little secrets. Solving various puzzles instantly and without effort, the three arrive at the fabled golden city, tussle with competing treasure-hunters, and somehow, inexplicably, clear the name of Gates's ancestor. Why the discovery of El Dorado would clear the name of an assassin is anyone's guess. It's further proof, I suppose, that gold really can buy anything.

The movie leaves many questions unanswered. If so many people knew the location of El Dorado and planted clues to its whereabouts all over North America and Europe, why didn't any of them plunder the fabled city? If El Dorado is an Olmec city, as the movie proposes, what is it doing in North America? Why did Southerners think finding El Dorado could help them win the Civil War when the Civil War was over by the time they started looking for it? How will taping an iPod to the wall of a bathroom stall help you hack the computers at Buckingham Palace? How does a man who just resisted arrest and engaged in a high-speed car chase through London leave the country without trouble? Why is the President so insanely easy to kidnap? Why does El Dorado look suspiciously like one of the South American levels on Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine? And most importantly, why does the discovery of El Dorado prove Gates's ancestor was no killer? Ah, my head is going to explode!

The movie is a glorified connect-the-dots with no internal logic. That much is clear. It's hard to deny, however, that it's fun, mostly because the cast, made up of high-caliber actors playing roles they can phone in, behaves as if this is all an enjoyable lark. They're having so much fun, it's hard not to have fun with them. The pace never flags, the two car chases are competent if unremarkable, the dialogue is funny, and the plot, though indecipherable, is enjoyably complicated. My verdict? Good, clean, brainless fun. And that's honestly all I want to say about it. You could easily find both a better and a worse use for your seven hard-earned bucks.

Read the addendum to this review here.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for National Treasure: Book of Secrets:

Myth Level: Medium (quest)

Quality: Medium-High (some mediocre cinematography, a script that doesn't quite wrap up neatly, lots of fun, plenty of nonsense)

Ethics/Religion: Medium-High (generally wholesome, mild fanservice, implied premarital relationship)
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